Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Top Ten Favorite Songs of All Time

Do you ever get so entangled with an idea that you can’t wrap your brain around it enough to convey it as something coherent? And then, as you’re pondering it, it grows, sprouting new, related ideas, like a Hydra that even Hercules (or Percy Jackson) couldn’t tame.

It happens to me with the regulariuty of Old Faithful – ideas simmering beneath the crust of my skull to eventually spout upwards, a huge mess for the world to see. Except, you know, not nearly as impressive as a geyser.

I’ve been pondering, for years now, I’d say, the interconnectedness of language, music, and movement – how they are all forms of communication that weave our human souls together. And one day, hopefully soon, I am going to bring together all these thoughts, all the scribblings scattered through different notebooks, and the bookmarked articles on the internet, and the literary quotes and song lyrics, and put them all together into something coherent and meaningful. I swear, I will.

But not today.

This post is a bit of a tangent, born from my larger ideas about music. This post is pure fun.

In a separate, but slightly related, part of my brain from all these thoughts about language, and connection, and blah, blah, blah, I have been doing another sort of pondering. For several years now, I have been trying to come up with a list of my Top Ten Favorite Songs of All Time.

In an effort to impress Jack Black in High Fidelity, I have really tried to be exclusive with my list. I have tried only to include songs which have stood the test of time, ones that make me pause in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store when I hear them, smile, and go, “ahhh.” Songs that tug at my heart strings.

Still, the list isn’t perfect. I’m sure there are songs I’ve forgotten. It’s a work in progress, as is life. But I thought I'd go ahead and share it with you. To this point, here’s what I’ve got, (in order, yes):

1. BadU2         I don’t even know what to say about this song. Haunting. Passionate. To me, it speaks of trying to let go of an obsession. It’s the battle of the human soul with itself. It makes me crumple inside – but in kind of a good way. It’s the very best from a band which could easily fill out this entire top ten list.

2. Into the MysticVan Morrison            Sometimes this one actually ranks as number one (when I feel a little less haunted). I want my gypsy soul to be rocked. Don’t you?

3. Clare de LuneClaude Debussy           Heart wrenchingly beautiful. I’ll discuss this one at greater length if ever I get around to the topic of motion/movement and expression. With no lyrics, it may not actually qualify as a song, but who cares. It’s my list.

4. ImagineJohn Lennon            I won’t bother analyzing this one for you. Just listen to the lyrics. I love and adore every word. Cliché and idealistic? Maybe. But in my view – perfect.

5. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small TownPearl Jam         The haunting beauty of Eddie Vedder’s voice is part of what makes so many Pearl Jam songs find their way into your soul. This one does it exceptionally well, and touches on the beauty (pain?) of perspective – “I change by not changing at all.”

6. Running to Stand StillU2     It kind of freaks me out that I connect so well with songs about heroin addiction, but maybe it’s just a U2 thing. They used to sing about that a lot. And after all this time, I still love them. A lot.

7. Ramble OnLed Zeppelin       I like a lot of songs in the “rambling” genre, and I like a lot of Led Zeppelin tunes. The combination puts this one on the list, for sure. It rocks, and “My freedom I hold dear.”

8. CocoonJack Johnson             For all the many, many Jack Johnson songs that I adore, it kind of surprises me that this is the one that stands out. I’m not totally sure why. I just know that if it pops up on a playlist, or on Pandora, I always reach out to turn up the volume and sing a passionate, off-key accompaniment.

9.  Girl, I Wanna Lay You DownALO     This is the most recent song on the list, and so I hesitate to say it’s really “stood the test of time” yet. Still, it makes me melt. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with an ALO show I went to several years ago. Have you ever been front row center when Zach Gill sang this song? I have, and I swear to you, he was looking directly at me while he sang. True story! I relive that experience every time I hear this one. So, … yeah.

10. This slot I really just have to leave open. Did you know I’m not great with commitment or closure? I feel like I need to keep this last spot flexible in case the best song ever comes along. Right now it’s a battle between Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams (high school and college memories), Across the Universe – The Beatles (part of the whole language/connection thing – “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup”), and Say Goodbye – Dave Matthews (just indescribably sexy). At the moment, Say Goodbye is in the lead, big time.

So, there you have it. A bit of my heart in music. And now it’s your turn, friends. Please tell me some (or all!) of the songs that would be on your all time top ten list! I'm sure it will make me want to change my list. What makes you turn up the volume, or cry, or dance around the living room like a maniac?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bayview Trail / Rockbound Valley Loop - Desolation Wilderness

Trail: Highly Technical Singletrack

Distance: 26 miles, 5,220 ft elevation gain

Difficulty: Challenging

Trailhead: From Tahoe City, take Highway 89 south for about 30 minutes to Emerald Bay. About a mile past the Eagle Falls trailhead, find the Bayview trailhead on your right, across from Inspiration Point. Drive through the campground to the trailhead parking.

From South Lake Tahoe, take Highway 89 north for about 10 minutes to Emerald Bay. Find the Bayview trailhead on your left across from Inspiration Point. Drive through the campground to the trailhead parking.

Season: July to October

Water: Water is available in the campground at the trailhead. There are numerous streams and lakes throughout the run. Late season, the streams may be dry and you'll need to rely on lakes.

Notes: Wilderness permits are required and can be filled out for free at the trailhead. 

Trail Description: First, you should consult a map, which can be found online here. My overview does not explain every turn at every trail juncture, but you should be able to follow my route description with use of the map.

Start at the Bayview Trailhead and climb the forested switchbacks for 2-3 miles.

The namesake bay view of Emerald Bay.

Follow the next several trail junctions downhill to the Velma Lakes, and eventually to the trail through Rockbound Valley. Watch for cairns to help keep you on course through this rocky section of trail.

The trail, marked with rocks across stretches of granite slabs.

Take a left, heading south, on the trail through Rockbound Valley toward Mosquito Pass. In spite of the name, this stretch provides some of the most runnable miles of trail.

Running through Rockbound Valley.

 Climb up Mosquito Pass ...

... and down into the Aloha Lakes Basin.

Descending to Aloha Lakes

From Aloha, take the PCT/TRT west along Heather and Susie Lakes.

Heather Lake

Continue following the PCT and TRT north over Dick's Pass.

Climbing Dick's Pass

At the top!

Leave the PCT/TRT before reaching Fontanillis Lake, and head east back to the Bayview Trail. When you can see the big lake over the tree tops, you know you're close. Descend all the way back to the trailhead.

This is an incredibly challenging but rewarding 26 miles. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time, as the technical aspects to trails in Desolation make for slow going. Don't forget to bring a camera!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Good Luck!

This weekend features a host of exciting runs in the trail running and ultra world: Waldo, Leadville, Pike's Peak, and the continuation of the multi-day Trans Rockies, among many others I'm sure. Between Facebook, blogs, and Twitter, I witnessed approximately 324 versions of the sentiment "Good luck!" 

I noticed this because I am very conscious of the fact that I rarely wish friends good luck at races. I mean, I do hope luck is with them, but luck is a funny thing. I've always been a bit of a fan of Seneca's sentiment "Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet." In other words, you're either ready for your race or not; there's no such thing as luck.

On the other hand, I do see how some things that are beyond your control can affect your race. Mostly in my mind, these are bits of bad luck: coming down with the flu on race morning, spraining an ankle at mile 63, wildfires threatening the course, as is currently happening for the Waldo 100K.

So perhaps a wish for good luck, is simply a wish to avoid bad luck? That's a sentiment I think I could endorse. After all, sometimes shit happens. Let's just hope it doesn't happen to you, right? Good luck!

It's just that, mostly I assume my friends don't need luck at this point. They've trained their butts off for weeks and months, and now that race day is here, what they need is to be smart and have a positive attitude. Generally before race day, I wish my friends to "have fun!" In other words, even if it all goes south, try to suck it up and have a positive attitude, okay? Toughen up, buttercup! (I mean, uh, have fun!)

With that in mind, I am wishing a wonderful day to all my many friends running races this weekend. Mostly, I am wishing a huge absence of bad luck to the fire fighters working the Bobby Fire up it the Willamette National Forest. From what I can tell, things don't look great for Waldo. It's such a wonderful race; I really hope it can happen, but I know the RD's will make the best decision possible.

It's another exciting weekend of racing! What do you usually say to your friends just prior to race day? What do you most enjoy hearing yourself?  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pacific Crest Trail: Old 40 to I-80

Trail: Technical Singletrack

Distance: 8 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Trailhead: From Truckee, head west on Donner Pass Road, past Donner Lake, and up the switchbacks of Old Highway 40 (also Donner Pass Road). At the top of the climb, look for the Sugar Bowl Academy on your left. You can park in the dirt area adjacent to the paved lot of the Academy.

From Sacramento, take I-80 east and exit Soda Springs. Turn right (east) on Donner Pass Rd. and follow it to the Sugar Bowl Academy. Park in the dirt lot. If you start heading downhill and can see Donner Lake, you've missed it.

The northbound trailhead leaves from the north side of the road.

Season: June to October

Water: There are a few mosquito-ridden ponds along the trail, but you're best advised to bring what water you think you'll need. One hand held bottle is usually sufficient for runners.

Notes: Please avoid parking in the paved lot of the Sugar Bowl Academy, as this is private property.

Trail Description: This 8 mile round trip run is a pleasant alternative to the more popular southbound section of the PCT that begins from this same trailhead. The rolling terrain, while often technical, does not have long, sustained climbs and thus is typically quite runnable.

The Trailhead

Start by crossing the street onto the singletrack marked with a PCT sign. You'll have views of Donner Lake below to your right. In this first mile, it is common to see climbers crowding the cliff faces to your left.

Rainbow Bridge and Donner Lake

There are a number of smaller, unmarked trails that climbers use. You want to stay on the main trail. If you feel like you are no longer on the main trail at any point, just back track until you find where you made a wrong turn.

You'll go up and over several small rises. Once you are about 1-2 miles from the trailhead, you can often have the trail all to yourself. Enjoy the wildflowers, the shady pines, and the rocky granite outcroppings.

When you come the junction with this sign ...

... continue toward Summit Lake for about a half mile to the tunnel under I-80. From there, turn around and head back to your starting point at Donner Pass for an 8 mile out-and-back. Of course, if you want to go farther, you can go under the freeway and make this run as long as you want!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Squaw Valley Mountain Run

The Squaw Valley Mountain Run is a Tahoe tradition. Starting a the base of the ski resort in Squaw Valley, it climbs 3.6 miles to a finish line at High Camp. This, the event's 33rd running, had all the elements of a classic summer day in the mountains.

First, in case you aren't sure what Squaw Valley is all about, there are plenty of reminders:

And also this:

But you don't have to be an Olympian or an ultrarunner to participate in the Mountain Run. Among the nearly six hundred participants you'll find serious athletes as well as families planning to hike the course. 

Of course, in these parts, Olympians and ultrarunners are likely present as well. Here's Joe, just two weeks after an awesome finish at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100:

The hardest part about this course is that I forget how hard it is. 3.6 miles doesn't sound very far, but after about 20 minutes, running uphill starts to get pretty painful. I'm an ultrarunner - I'm used to hiking the uphills!

I'd been running in second since about a half mile into the race, and the first place woman was slowly inching away from me. I'd been biding my time, hoping she would come back to me, but not long after the two mile mark, I realized it was not to be.

I was ready to slow down and settle for second when I turned a switchback and took the opportunity to see what was going on below. Dang! There was a pack of about four women right behind me. Slowing down would mean settling for more like sixth. Okay, fine. No slowing down.

The final uphill push seems to get even steeper, but it's pretty awesome to reach your finish line at the top of a mountain.

Volunteers hand you an official SVMR pint glass and usher you toward the keg. It's not a bad idea to take a diversion past the food and water table first, but that's up to you.

The rest of the morning can be spent hanging out with friends, eating, drinking, listening to music, and cheering for runners still streaming across the line.

Jorge Maravilla and Ross McMahan at the Salomon tent

JoAnne and Andy: your illustrious Tunnel Creek AS medical team!

Truckee friends: Brittney and Angela

If beer before 10:00 A.M. isn't your thing, you can also take the opportunity to lengthen your run by heading out on the PCT or Western States trails. Angela, Brittney and I skipped the tram ride down and took a mellow warm-down by running the course in reverse - much easier in that direction!

If you're ever in northern California on the first Saturday in August, I recommend not missing the Squaw Valley Mountain Run!